Nov. 23--If the numbers don't tell the story, then the crushed fenders, shattered windshields, crumpled front-ends, and deployed airbags certainly do. And the injuries, and the deaths.
When deer meets vehicle, things get messy, expensive, and dangerous. During the late fall rut, or mating season, deer movement and activity spikes, and the collisions follow the same statistical track, but the rut is only one of the drivers behind this very reliable blip.
It's the three H's -- harvest, hunters, and hormones -- that put more deer in the path of so many automobiles, trucks and even motorcycles at this time of year. As farmers work the fields to remove crops, it is also archery season in Ohio and firearm season in Michigan, so this dramatic increase in outdoor activity and human presence gets deer moving. The mating season hits about the same time, so the triple-whammy is at work.
"We know there is an increased risk of collision with deer around dawn and dusk, and also during the October-December breeding season," said Chris Mullen, the former director of technology research at State Farm Insurance Co. who currently serves as the director of safety standards at Uber Advanced Technologies Group.
"However, drivers should be engaged, alert and on the lookout at all times, because you never know when you may need to react to a deer or any other obstacle that may suddenly be in your path."
Insurance industry data shows that the estimated cost of deer-car accidents in the U.S. is more than $1 billion annually, with about 10,000 personal injuries and an average of 150 deaths as a result of these accidents. The data also indicates that a driver's chance of colliding with a deer more than doubles during the months of October, November, and December, a time frame that brackets the deer mating season. Roughly half of the annual total of deer-vehicle crashes in Ohio and Michigan occur in those final three months of the year.
"It is the most dangerous time for drivers since deer are on the move and much more likely to be in the roadway," said Ottawa County Sheriff Stephen Levorchick. "It is so important, especially at this time of year, for drivers to slow down and be more aware of what might be in the road, and alongside the road."
Levorchick, an avid archery hunter himself, said besides the significant increase in deer movement in the fall, the unpredictability factor also comes into play.
"We all know that a deer can come from anywhere, not just areas where there are woods or cornfields, and not just along the country roads," he said. "So as you drive, it is important to be constantly scanning what's ahead, not only on the road but also along the sides of the roads."
Deer will often feed in the open grassy areas along the roadway, but are also prone to be startled by traffic or other sources and might suddenly bolt across the road. It is also smart to assume that deer are often not alone at this time of year, he added.
"And there are areas that should be considered prone to more deer activity, and those require an extra level of caution from drivers," Levorchick said. "When you get out on Route 2 by the federal marshes -- there is a very heavy deer population up through there and a lot of deer crossing the roadway. You have to be even more vigilant in areas like that."
State Farm's analysis of claims related to deer-car crashes shows that from July 1, 2017 to June 30, 2018 there were 1.33 million of these crashes. Michigan ranks eighth nationally in the likelihood of a driver being involved in a deer-car crash, with Ohio 20th, and Pennsylvania third, behind national leader West Virginia and Montana.
Deer numbers have been on the rise in Ohio in recent years, especially in large parks, preserves, and wildlife areas, and Levorchick said there has also been a rise in the number of deer-vehicle collisions. Levorchick said in a two-day period in the past week his department was handling reports on six deer-car crashes.
"We've always had deer-car crashes, but in the last few years they have definitely increased," Levorchick said.
Experts in the insurance research field have a list of safety recommendations for drivers to follow in areas of increased deer activity and during periods of increased deer movement. Those include slowing down, particularly at dusk and dawn; expect to see more than one deer at a time; use high beams when appropriate to increase your field of visibility; if you see a deer, brake but do not swerve; avoid any distractions while driving such as eating or using your phone; pay attention to signs indicating an area with a high number of deer crossings; and always use your seat belt.
Levorchick stressed the importance of maintaining control of your vehicle when a deer appears in the roadway.
"You never swerve to avoid hitting a deer. You don't want to swerve for any animal in the road, because swerving can cause a head-on collision with another vehicle," Levorchick said. "The best thing to do is brake hard if the road conditions are appropriate for that, but always maintain your lane of travel. Slow down, brake, but never swerve. As terrible as it is to hit a deer, it is much worse to hit another vehicle head-on."
He added that during the fall rut, the larger male deer or bucks will be visible much more often than usual, and prone to throw their customary caution to the wind and cross lanes of traffic in their pursuit of the female does.
"The big bucks are nocturnal and almost invisible for much of the year, but when the rut comes along they seem to be everywhere all of the time," Levorchick said. "These bucks are trying to breed as many does as they can, so they are constantly moving and being as active as they can be. They'll show up in the road."
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